Plants soften the heat of summer. They create a more cooling environment as they don’t absorb and emit heat the way concrete does. And they cool us through our senses. It may be the color of a flower that cools and calms, or the look and texture of the leaves. Perhaps it is the song it sings as the breeze blows, or the shade a tree or tall plant provides to give us a break from the sun.
Plants also mirror to us how much we benefit from the natural world when it’s hot. It takes heat for this thriving natural world to provide our plant medicines and food. And some plants have the capacity to transmute heat and sun into something that cools and calms. Vetiver is one of these plants.
Namesake and History
Vetiver, Vetiveria zizanoides, is a tall perennial grass that is native to India. The name translates from Tamil, one of the languages of native people, to mean “the root that is dug out”. The roots grow in clumps about 5 feet wide, and extend 7-14 feet deep into the ground. The grass itself will grow 6-7 feet tall. Vetiver thrives in heat. While temperatures in the mountainous regions of India can be cooler in the summer, lower laying areas where vetiver grows range from the 90’s to 120+ with high humidity.
For thousands of years vetiver has been most used for its calming and cooling attributes by all social classes of people in India. Roots of plants aged 1 ½ to 2-years-old are dug up, cleaned, and set to dry in the sun. They are soaked in water, and then distilled to make essential oil.
The grass is laid to dry in the sun as well. It is then made into window blinds that are hung to keep the sun and heat out. The blinds are sprayed with the essential oil of vetiver. When the hot breeze blows, the scent of something calm and cooling comes to bring relief from the scorching temperatures, and to keep the bugs away.
Vetiver essential oil is a circulatory and endocrine gland stimulant, while having a calming effect on the mind. In other words, it stimulates and balances function, while putting the body to rest. The chemical picture this essential oil paints is one that supports relaxation, the immune system, and inflammation.
Vetiver has the ability to stimulate a weakened immune system when stress has dampened the energy. It also has the capacity to regulate an over stimulated immune system, especially in an allergic response. In my experience, it has great effect on inflammation due to allergic response as well as low immune function when combined with essential oils of lavender, myrrh and eucalyptus, with a hint of mint. I have clients apply the formula under their nose, where they can inhale it deeply. Do this for a few minutes every 15 minutes, or until relief is felt. This can work to aid an allergic reaction, but should not be substituted for medication in the event of a life-threatening allergy. To stimulate a weakened immune system, apply the same formula under the nose 4 times daily and inhale for a few minutes each application.
The frequency of vetiver oil is slow. If you meditate and sit with the scent, it makes a wave through the body that changes ones own frequency to a more tranquil and calm state. The positive effect vetiver has on the immune system is due in part to its ability to calm and cool the body. Vetiver is specifically indicated for stress and over extension emotionally and physically. It acts to sedate the nervous system and lessen what feels like an attack on the body, thus chemically balancing our reaction. Conditions of nervous debility, sexual frigidity due to stress, excessive heat, and tension are relieved by a combination of vetiver and rose, with a bit of atlas cedar wood. For a more sedative effect, substitute sandalwood for atlas cedar wood. For a more aphrodisiac effect, combine vetiver with sandalwood, ylang-ylang, sweet orange and cinnamon.
With sensitive immune systems and emotions comes sensitive skin for some. Vetiver’s anti-inflammatory effects and soothing nature also work on dry, irritated skin. For a general formula in such cases, try a combination of essential oils of vetiver, yarrow or german chamomile, and a hint of myrrh and rose in an infused oil of comfrey or calendula. Skin conditions can be tricky, so it is not always as easy as a general formula. But it is worth a try.
How to Make a Cooling Foot and Hand Spray
Salves and lotions can be heavy in summer. To benefit from the emotional and heat relieving effects of vetiver, I recommend making a hand/wrist/foot spray that can also be used all over the body. You will need a glass spray bottle, which can be obtained from Community Pharmacy or Whole Foods. The ingredients I use are distilled water, witch hazel, and essential oils of lavender, peppermint and vetiver.
These essential oils restore balance and tranquility after a day in the heat. Peppermint calms, increases vitality, and brings clarity to a cluttered and swollen mind after a hot day outside. Lavender and vetiver calm as well. They clear the fog of heat that weighs heavy on the emotions, for an overheated body causes emotions to run hot as well. Together they support us in our over sensitivity, nervous debility and stress that come from the heat. They can also aid a heat headache when inhaled deeply for a few minutes at a time until the desired result is felt.
To make the spray in a 4 oz. bottle, use 2 parts distilled water to 1 part witch hazel. Add 15 drops of vetiver, about 7 drops of lavender and 5 drops of peppermint. If you would like one scent to be more pronounced then the others, play with the formula to decide what you like best. And feel free to add something different.
New Use For An Old Plant
Vetiver is proving itself to be even more valuable. It has been found to be a non-invasive ground cover capable of stopping erosion due to the dense and deep root system. It has been used in India for such, and plants are now being propagated in Haiti for sale in the United States with great results. While it won’t help us here in the Midwest, it has been very useful in the southern part of the country, where it is hot enough for vetiver to proliferate due to the hot summers and mild winters.
Vetiver is a wise plant that increases our ability to thrive. Although it is a powerful medicine to the mind and body, I believe it appeals to our senses to bring compassion and tolerance for others, and for ourselves. It breaks the boundaries of social class barriers in India to show us that we all suffer and need relief. And it also holds and supports the earth to keep it strong, and help it to better support us. In this hot summertime, we relish the plants that thrive in the heat. Vetiver is one of those plants.